Consumer electronics coatings – far more than decoration
Consumer choices are no longer determined by the products available at their local store. The Internet provides a world of products and comparisons at our fingertips, so it is no surprise that what consumers expect is quality. These high standards mean products need to be on trend, tough, and have coatings that enhance every aspect of appearance and feel. Whether it be computers, smartphones, radios, games consoles, or smart fridges, consumer electronics coatings have to reflect and understand the way consumers interact with their products.
Here we take a look at the consumer electronics coatings that are currently leading the market and some of the design trends shaping the industry.
Haptic coatings – CE coatings that just feel right
Surprisingly, the old cliché ‘when you know, you know’ describes quite a lot of haptic coatings. Haptic means ‘relating to the sense of touch’, and haptic coatings are those that make a product feel a certain way. These feelings range from rubbery to velvety to silky smooth, each one a textured coating designed to shape or direct interaction with a product. The attraction of haptic coatings isn’t just that they feel good; the smooth, silken feel of a soft touch coating can drive product sales and gives products a high quality appearance.
Soft touch coatings are used to cover up unappealing substrates like plastics, particularly where touch is a necessary part of using the product. Manufacturers of games consoles, laptops, and car interiors rely on these coatings to provide a unique look and feel that makes their products stand out from the crowd. The Philips DiamondClean Sonicare range of electric toothbrushes use soft touch coatings to provide a smooth, comfortable finish for the user to hold that is also stylish and sleek.
For manufacturers, the challenge has been to create soft touch coatings that are also chemical and abrasion resistant and capable of providing the mechanical performance of regular coatings. For white and light colours in particular, soft touch coatings need to have good stain resistance. To face these challenges, soft touch coatings are commonly tough polyurethane or polyacrylate dispersions and emulsions. Polyurethane is a versatile resin with flexible formulation possibilities that has excellent mechanical properties. UV curable resins are also proving popular where fast curing and extra durability is required.
Brand-building through colour and style with coatings
In the competitive world of consumer electronics, brand strength and recognition is paramount. It is not enough to simply have a good product, it needs to tell a story. Part of that is marketing and outreach, of course, but the products themselves need to fit into that narrative. Nespresso, so smoothly advertised by that silver fox George Clooney, has marketed itself as the George Clooney of the coffee machine world – both exclusive and undeniable. And Nespresso machines have more than the whiff of Hollywood magic – the silver of the metal trim is in fact a metal simulation coating over plastic.
Dyson is one of the UK’s most beloved brands. Their products are easily recognisable in any electronics store; the Dyson vacuum is colourful, simple, and just looks a cut above the rest. This attractive colour that identifies Dyson is in fact due to coating. Where colourful plastic can look cheap, the coated plastic used in Dyson has a premium look and feel which plays into the story told by their brand. Dyson products are not short-term, they are products you should be proud to have in your home.
How wearable tech takes consumer electronic coatings into the emotional
Smart watches, activity trackers, and health monitors are currently at the vanguard of wearable tech. However, the Internet of Things is rapidly expanding and more and more of the products of our daily lives become ‘connected’. As devices become wearable they become a way of keeping up with our own bodies and stories, as well as those of our loved ones. An emotional relationship develops as they become part of our home and lives that is more than any television screen can evoke. According to coating companies like AkzoNobel, this emotional attachment is where the magic comes from.
Designers of device coatings need to take into account how consumers feel about their devices when they develop new colours and new haptics for a product. This presents a particular challenge and also opportunity for designers in a way that a keypad never will. And this is not the only challenge. As wearable tech is meant to be just that, ‘wearable’, the sensitivity of human skin needs to be reckoned with for any coating choice. Though the current market preference for colour tends towards blacks, whites, greys, and silvers, as these products become more ubiquitous so too will the desire to stand out from the crowd.
UV curable coatings and lowering environmental impact
Companies can no longer afford to ignore the trend towards environmentally conscious choices among consumers. In a world of finite resources, consumers are looking to brands to improve the environmental impact of their processes and materials. For coating manufacturers this means less energy intensive coatings and making the move to water-based rather than solvent-based formulations to cut down on VOCs.
UV curable coatings are not only more energy efficient than many alternatives, they also drastically minimise cure time and improve process speeds. As these technologies improve, the number of components in these coatings decreases which in turn improves overall efficiency. Low bake powder coatings are another solvent-free alternative where reduced energy usage and versatility come together.
The balancing act – giving consumers and OEMS what they want
Consumers may demand the highest quality, but they also want it at cost. As consumers vote with their wallet, OEMs need to cut costs to match. Improving production efficiency is one sure-fire way to decrease expenditure. To achieve this requires collaboration. Consumer electronics coatings manufacturers are developing products that focus on process efficiency, reduced energy usage, and formulations that require fewer coats or components.
In a market as dynamic as consumer electronics, there is no space for resting on any laurels. As consumers demand variety and diversion of the highest quality and OEMs strive to produce the next big thing, coatings companies dedicate themselves to finding this seasons look, the perfect feel, and even higher performing protection.